Mirror is the first ECM New Series album from Tõnu Kõrvitz (born 1969), who joins a distinguished line of composers from Estonia who have recorded for the label, the list including Arvo Pärt, Heino Eller, Veljo Tormis, Erkki-Sven Tüür and Helena Tulve. Conductor Tõnu Kaljuste, one of the most energetic champions of modern Estonian music has continuously featured music of all these composers in programmes for the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and the present recording could be said to have its historical starting point in the Nargen Festival – held on the island near Tallinn – of which Kaljuste is artistic director.
Eight years ago, after performances at Nargen with the Rosamunde Quartet, German cellist Anja Lechner met Tõnu Kõrvits for the first time. The following year – when she was in Tallin playing with the Tarkovsky Quartet – Kaljuste showed her the score of Kõrvits’s Seitsme Linnu Seitse Und (Seven Dreams of Seven Birds) and asked her if she’d like to play the piece. Originally scored for cello and choir; additional writing for strings in the 2012 revision gave the work its unique character as part cello concerto, part choral suite. Anja Lechner was immediately interested in the music: “It’s a wonderful piece to play,” says Lechner, “with its deep sense of sounds from nature”, the cello cadenza in Dream III, for instance, drawing forth sounds of bird call and bird movement from choir and orchestra. “And also Tõnu Kõrvits’s writing gives me freedom in some passages to improvise a little, and that’s creatively challenging as well.”
Lechner’s cello is also foregrounded in the album’s opening and closing pieces Peegeldused Tasasest Maast (Refelctions from a Plainland) and Laul (Song), the first of these being a fantasy on a theme by Veljo Tormis. Like the older composer, Kõrvitz has been influenced by folk song and archaic musical tradition, and these find their echo in the refined and texturally-rich spectrum of his own, often labyrinthine, pieces.
In the intimate works of the present album, as Paul Griffiths notes in the CD booklet, “the focus is on Kõrvitz’s connection with the Estonian choral tradition, particularly as that tradition is represented in the music of Tormis…There is something in this recording of a tradition being received by one generation from another. But there is also more going on. […] A memory is being conveyed at once from Tormis to Kõrvits and from the radiant voices to the instrument. A memory is being conveyed also from a whole population of voices to an individual, from a culture to that individual, from the past to present.”
The Kõrvits compositions on Mirror receive first recordings here. The album was recorded at Tallinn’s Methodist Church in February 2013, and produced by Manfred Eicher.
Tõnu Kõrvits’s earliest published works date from his student years at the Estonian Academy from which he graduated in 1994. Since then he has written for the full array of media, including also numerous film scores. His 2007 piece Kreek’s Notebook, for chorus and strings attracted international attention, consolidating his reputation. He is the recipient of numerous awards including the Cultural Prize of the Republic of Estonia (2011), and the Estonian Choral Association’s Choral Composer of the Year Award (2014).
Anja Lechner’s recordings for ECM since 1996 include music of Tigran Mansurian, Valentin Silvestrov, Federico Mompou, G. I. Gurdjieff, Komitas, and, with the Rosamunde Quartett, Schoeck, Larcher, Webern, Shostakovich, Burian, Haydn, Yoffe, and more. The broad spectrum of her work embraces performances as soloist with orchestras, classical and contemporary chamber music as well as projects referencing diverse improvisational traditions. She has an ongoing association with Argentinean bandoneonist Dino Saluzzi, documented on several recordings and in the film El Encuentro. Her chamber music partners include Pablo Marquez, Reto Bieri and Patricia Kopatchinskaja. She is a member of the Tarkovsky Quartet, led by François Couturier with whom she also collaborates in the Pergolesi project Il Pergolese and in duo.
Singer Kadri Voorand, heard on Tasase Maa Laul (Song of the Plainland) is best known in Estonia as a jazz singer. She leads her own band as well as the a cappella group Estonian Voices.
Conductor Tõnu Kaljuste is the founder of the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir (1981) and the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra (1993), the Nargen Opera project theatre (2004) and the Nargen Festival (2006). He has made important contributions to ECM recordings with music of Arvo Pärt, Erkki-Sven Tüür, Veljo Tormis, Heino Eller, Alfred Schnittke and more, including most recently an album with music of Tüür/Brett Dean/Gesualdo, including Kaljuste’s own transcription of Gesulado for string orchestra. Tõnu Kaljuste received a Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance for Adam’s Lament by Pärt. More information at www.tonukaljuste.com
At Easter 2016, Kaljuste will conduct the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra and the Norwegian Soloists’ Choir in performances of Tõnu Kõrvitz’s Seitsme Linnu Seitse and Laul, with Anja Lechner as soloist, in a programme which also includes music of Arvo Pärt, Brett Dean and Tüür/Gesualdo. Dates are Kongsberg, Tønsberg Domkirke (March 20), Ringsaker, Hjøvik kirke (March 21), and Oslo Frogner Kirke (March 22).
CD booklet includes an essay on Tõnu Kõrvitz’s work by Paul Griffiths.